PITTSBURGH -- Zack Greinke couldn’t help but give a little smirk as he tossed his hair back, standing up at third base after his first career triple on Thursday.
It’s the first time since 1930 that a pitcher has hit at least five extra-base hits through the team's first 26 games (Wes Ferrell). The only pitcher with more than five since 1908? Just the greatest dual threat in baseball history: Babe Ruth (8, in 1918).
Greinke’s triple also gave him a cycle in the first month of the season, the only time in history that’s been accomplished by a pitcher. It’s the first time a pitcher has hit for the cycle in a full month since Dontrelle Willis did so in August 2011.
“I love that,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said of the feat. “What he does offensively does not surprise me whatsoever. He works as hard at it as anybody we have. I know he plays a lot of golf, so the swing never goes away year-round.”
Working from a 1-0 count against Taillon, Greinke swung through a 94 mph heater and sent it to the Clemente Wall in right field. He went from home to third in 12.49 seconds with a 25.1 feet per second sprint speed, sliding headfirst into third base, which Lovullo recalled him doing last season at PNC Park as well.
“I encourage these guys to be athletes and be reactive to the moment,” Lovullo said. “But sometimes, when you see someone like Zack do that, you hold your breath.”
“That’s all right,” Greinke said of his manager’s concern. “It felt good. It was a long run, though. That was harder than I thought, to run that far.”
Greinke has two doubles, one triple and two homers in 13 at-bats this year, earning him a 1.731 OPS over a very small sample size. But even though the gargantuan number may not warrant MVP chants, opposing pitchers aren’t taking him lightly.
“He’s one of those guys you have to game plan for,” said Taillon, who the D-backs scored all five runs off. “Usually with pitchers, you go into the game and say, 'We’ll attack him like a pitcher' -- get ahead, put him away. Greinke, he’s got enough data on him at this point, but he’s also got a reputation for being able to handle the bat.”
Greinke has also settled back in to dominance on the mound. He started the year with a short season debut, allowing seven runs to the Dodgers on March 28. But he’s posted 15 straight scoreless innings and struck out 36 batters over his past five starts.
Greinke’s entire arsenal was working on Thursday. His fastball drew 16 called strikes, though he felt another 10 “were an inch away from being a strike.” The Bucs whiffed six times on his changeup, a pitch he threw for 19 strikes on 25 offerings. Josh Bell, the hottest bat for the opposition, was rung up three times on three different pitches (curveball, changeup and four-seamer).
“It was old-school Atlanta Braves pitching today,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Greinke. “He was running them over the black stripe.”
“A lot of pitches out of the zone that looked like strikes,” said Bucs second baseman Colin Moran, one of three Pirates who reached base safely. “He’s a good pitcher. He just seemed like he could do what he wanted today.”
And in an age of two-way players, Greinke is bringing back the look of a traditional pitcher who simply knows how to hit when the No. 9 spot is due up. He’s factored into a power surge in Arizona, as the D-backs lead the National League with 108 extra-base hits through 26 games.
“There’s not just an out in the nine-hole,” said Christian Walker, who hit three doubles over the past two games. “He’s going up. He can drive in runs. He can get on base. He can start an inning for us.
“To be honest, I wish I could say it surprised any of us, but it doesn’t.”